Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 3 - Evidence - Meeting of February 4, 2014
OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at
5:25 p.m. to study the importance of bees and bee health in the production of
honey, food and seed in Canada.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry. My name is Percy Mockler, senator from New Brunswick
and chair of the committee. At this time I would like to ask each senator to
introduce themselves, starting with the deputy chair.
Senator Mercer: Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.
Senator Maltais: I am Senator Maltais from Quebec.
Senator Eaton: Nicky Eaton from Ontario.
Senator Rivard: Michel Rivard from Quebec.
Senator Oh: Victor Oh, senator from Ontario.
Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie from Nova Scotia.
The Chair: Honourable senators, the committee is continuing its
examination of the importance of pollinators in agriculture and the measures to
take to protect them.
Our order of reference from the Senate of Canada is that the Standing Senate
Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be authorized to examine and report on the
importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in
Canada. In particular, the committee was authorized to examine this topic within
the context of the importance of bees in pollination to produce food, especially
fruit and vegetables; seed for crop production; and honey production in Canada.
As well as the current state of pollinators, leaf-cutting bees, and honeybees
indigenous to Canada.
This includes the factors affecting honeybee health, including disease,
parasites and pesticides in Canada and globally; and also strategies for
governments, producers and industry to ensure bee health.
Honourable senators, the first panel is composed of the following witnesses,
whom we thank for accepting our invitation. We welcome Dr. Rob Currie, Professor
and Head, Department of Entomology, University of Manitoba.
We also have Dr. Pascal Dubreuil, Assistant Dean, Clinical and Professional
Affairs, from the University of Montreal.
By video conference, we have Dr. Ernesto Guzman, Professor and Head, Honey
Bee Research Centre, University of Guelph.
I am informed by the clerk that the first presenter will be Dr. Guzman, to be
followed by Dr. Currie and Dr. Dubreuil.
Dr. Guzman, please make your presentation. After the three presentations, we
will have questions from senators.
Ernesto Guzman, PhD, Professor and Head of the Honey Bee Research Centre,
University of Guelph: I wish I were there, but I've been travelling a lot
and my wife wouldn't understand. Fortunately, I can be there by video
I would say that honeybees are very important not only for honey production
but also for food production. One third of what we eat in Western societies is
produced thanks to the pollinating effect of honeybees and other bees.
Pollination has to do with the transfer of pollen, which contains the male
reproductive cells of flowering plants to set fruit and produce crops. They are
very important. Around the world, it is estimated that the value of honeybee
pollination exceeds $200 billion; and in Canada it's approximately $2 billion a
year. Honeybees are important for food production and for honey production.
The beekeeping industry is facing problems. I say ``beekeeping industry''
because beekeepers are the ones that have to deal with the issue of colony
mortality and try to find solutions so that they restore the number of colonies
they work with. We've been losing about one third of our colonies every year for
the past six years not only in North America but also in parts of Europe. In
Canada, in particular, we've been losing about 30 per cent, or a little more, of
our colonies, on average, every year for six years. This is unprecedented. If
you have a bad year with a 30 per cent or 40 per cent loss, but then you have
several years with expected losses of 10 to 15 per cent, which we would say is
normal, no problem. But when you have six years in a row above 15 per cent,
something is going on.
Beekeepers are coping with this problem by splitting their colonies and
importing bees from other countries to try to make up for the losses, but at a
very high cost. I don't have a figure for Canada but for the province of
Ontario, when we consider the value of honey that is lost every year and the
value of yields not produced by crops benefited by bees, we come up with a
figure of about $50 million every year. The value of those losses in Canada must
exceed several hundreds of millions of dollars.
What's killing the bees is not a single factor. You can make a list of 20 to
30 different factors that have been mentioned as potential culprits causing
these losses, so it's a multifactorial problem. Most scientists agree that it's
a multifactorial problem. It's not so simple to resolve. If it was one factor,
we would solve it relatively easily, but we have a number of factors.
When you make a short list of these factors, most scientists agree that it
includes pathogens such as the varroa mite, which is a blood-sucking parasite
like a tick; the Nosema fungus, which impairs the digestive system of bees; and
pesticides. That's probably the short list of the most important factors
involved in the problem. There are others like malnutrition of bees, climate
effects, et cetera. When you look at all of these factors interacting, it's
difficult to point a finger at a single one.
The issue of debate among scientists is: Which of these factors has more
weight? Which of these factors is responsible for most of the losses? It varies
with the season, the year and the location.
I can talk about our experience in Ontario. We conducted a study in 2009-10
trying to associate these different factors with colony losses, and we reached
the conclusion at the end of the study that 85 per cent of the cases of winter
mortality in Ontario had to do with the varroa mite. Other factors were involved
as well, but this was factor number one for winter mortality.
During the spring, particularly in 2012-13, we observed lots of cases of
colony mortality and bee mortality with pesticides — associated not by us but by
PMRA of Health Canada — in particular neonicotinoid insecticides. As I said, in
Ontario, some of these factors have more weight in winter, like the varroa mite,
and some have more weight in spring, like neonicotinoid pesticides.
Varroa also transmits viruses that may cause disease in the bees. Nosema, a
fungus that impairs the digestive system of bees, may contribute as well. All of
these factors, along with the pesticides, might interact together.
The main neonicotinoid pesticide used in Ontario to coat seeds of corn and
soybean are clothianidin. To give you an idea, clothianidin is about 10,000
times more toxic to bees than DDT. This pesticide gets in touch with bees by the
nectar and pollen they consume, although there's no real strong evidence that
it's killing the bees. It's also in contact with bees by the dust drifting from
seeding machines. That was the case for 2012-13. I'm not going to say more about
it because there's a report from Health Canada indicating that.
In summary, I would say a number of factors interact to cause this mortality
in bees, and they vary according to the season. In winter, at least in the
province of Ontario, the varroa mite is the factor with more weight; while in
spring, it seems to be neonicotinoid pesticides.
I would suggest that a number of experts of different agencies and
disciplines work together to come up with more research in the area and develop
policies that benefit beekeepers and growers. In particular for beekeepers, more
research needs to be done on varroa viruses and other pathogens, as well as on
their interaction with pesticides.
Beekeepers have the option of controlling the varroa mites with available
tools, but more technology transfer is needed to deal with the problem. They
cannot do anything about the pesticides on crops because they aren't under their
control. Perhaps current agricultural practices need to be reviewed.
That pretty much covers what I wanted to state before the Senate.
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Guzman.
We'll now ask Dr. Currie to make his presentation, please.
Rob Currie, PhD, Professor and Head, Department of Entomology, University
of Manitoba: Thank you to all senators for inviting me here today. I
appreciate the invitation and the chance to speak. To give you a little of my
background, I'm from Manitoba and I've kept bees in Manitoba since the late
1970s. Thus, I've lived through pre-varroa, varroa, pesticides and a variety of
I started my position as a faculty member in Manitoba in 1991. Since that
time, I've been focusing on winter losses as the primary area of my research,
focusing in particular on a lot of aspects associated with the control of varroa
and other bee diseases.
At the time I got started in that research area, I figured I was in pretty
good shape because winter wasn't going to go away in Manitoba and the losses at
the time, I thought even though they were in the 15 per cent range, were an area
where we could see improvement. Clearly, it's even more in need today.
As Dr. Guzman so eloquently stated, multiple factors are involved in causing
many of the losses that we're seeing in all provinces across Canada and around
the world. As he mentioned in terms of the number one culprit, probably most
research scientists would believe that the varroa mite is a big part of the
problem. We have seen resistance develop to the acaricides that we have had in
succession. We've gone through two components that worked well and controlled
the mites. Many of the problems that we see and have seen in a paper published
by Ernesto Guzman, Stephen Pernal and me looked at the timing of the acaricide
resistance across the Prairies and how it arrived in different locations at
different times. There is a fairly good relationship between when acaricide
resistance would develop at any particular time, in any particular province, and
subsequent losses following the development of that resistance. The beekeepers
would get a new acaricide and keep the mites under control for a short period of
time, and then things would be good. As they developed more problems, more
issues would result.
We're now on the third set of acaricides, and I think the alternative
acaricides that we have don't work as effectively as some of the other compounds
we used in the early 1990s. The fact that we aren't keeping the mites under
control as well means that a lot of these other stressors that Dr. Guzman
mentioned that are interacting with the colonies — the viruses, Nosema,
pesticides that are beekeeper applied, pesticides that are environmentally
applied — are now becoming a much more serious problem. We have to deal with all
of these issues, and we're doing that in a time when we often have a lot of
climatic variability. That climatic variability can contribute to the problem,
in part because it causes somewhat unpredictable timing of when good nutrition,
in the form of plants, is available for bees. That can cause major problems
particularly when it happens going into the fall.
We have these massive differences. There are very different management
structures of the way bees are kept in different provinces. In British Columbia,
they tend to rely a lot on pollination income. Similarly, in the East, they
often rely a lot on pollination income. When you get into the Prairies, with the
exception of southern Alberta, the main focus is on honey production, and
beekeepers in my region rely almost entirely on the production of honey for
If you look at my region, despite the fact I've been working on trying to
improve winter losses over the rest of my career, we had the distinction of
having the highest winter losses in Canada last winter. Losses in Manitoba were
46 per cent. If you talk to the provincial apiarists and to most beekeepers and
look at the research data in that particular year, probably a lot of that loss
was related to climate and the fact that going into the late summer and late
fall we had a major dearth of pollen being produced. There wasn't much brood to
produce the young bees that form the wintering population. As a result,
populations were probably not quite what they should be in terms of the age
structure going into winter. You compound that with a very long, hard winter and
an even worse spring, and that's probably a big contributor to the major losses
we saw in Manitoba last year.
Other factors, like the varroa mite, were also no doubt partly responsible.
We have a lot to do. Some of the research we've done in my lab shows that
there are interactions not only with the environmentally applied pesticides —
not an area I'm working with — but also the in-hive applied pesticides. In some
cases, the combination of the stresses of varroa and those in-hive applied
pesticides can also result in colony loss. We have a lot of things going on.
Dr. Guzman talked about the role of chloronicotinyls in Ontario and Quebec,
and it's been a fairly serious issue there. It doesn't seem to be as clear an
issue in Manitoba and perhaps through most of the Prairie provinces. This may be
in part due to fairly dramatic differences in the amount of corn and soybeans
grown in our areas. It may be just due to differences in the way bees are
managed in those two different areas. We're not really sure. There have been a
few cases of beekeepers that have suspected pesticide poisoning, and there have
been a few instances where some of these chloronicotinyls have been identified
in pollen within hives. But if you look at the big picture, as Dr. Guzman was
talking about, and the total number of hives that were identified with problems
in Manitoba, it would be about 275 hives out of 80,000. In terms of the big
picture and what's causing that 46 per cent loss, at least in the last year, it
doesn't seem that those chloronicotinyls are causing a huge issue in Manitoba.
In terms of recommendations, I think we need a lot of information about how
to better manage the bees, how to better deal with these problems and how to
identify all of these interacting factors that so we can come up with good
solutions. We need to get that information out to beekeepers. Both of those
components require sustainable, predictable funding so that we can get people in
place and basically keep them in place, keep the good people around. If you have
grants that come up, then have a year off and then get more funding, your people
go, and it's hard to get them back and restarted. We need good, sustainable
funding for the people in the extension areas across the country, too, because
they're the ones that get the information out to the beekeepers. That includes
not only the people working in the bee industry and bee extension but also those
on the crop side.
A lot of the integrated pest management going on with respect to crops like
corn, soybeans and even canola and other crops that rely on chloronicotinyls
results in these treatment products being applied when they're not necessary. In
many cases in Manitoba there are no insects or very few insects, for example, in
corn and soybeans, that are actually treated by these chloronicotinyls, and yet
pretty much every seed that goes into the ground has those chloronicotinyls in
it. Better extension on the crop management side would also help.
That's my statement.
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Currie.
Dr. Pascal Dubreuil, Assistant Dean, Clinical and Professional Affairs,
University of Montreal: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for your invitation to come
and speak to you about bee health problems. My testimony will focus more on
agriculture in eastern Canada, mainly in Quebec, because that is the region I
know the best.
I am a veterinary doctor. I was raised in a family of beekeepers. My father
was a beekeeper and he made his first hives himself at the age of 10. This means
that Dubreuil honey has mainly been available in the Saint-Hyacinthe region for
90 years, and is now available in Maine. I paid for school by working in the
family business. My brother took over and his sons are now taking over for him.
We have 1,100 hives in Quebec. Maybe it is not on the same scale as Alberta, but
for the province of Quebec, that is significant. When one is raised in this
field, one always keeps an interest. I did my classes in veterinary medicine. I
focussed on large animals.
To come back to beekeeping in Quebec, I remember that, in the 1960s, apple
producers asked my father to bring bees to them. The first one to do so was a
Mr. Ménard, from Saint-Paul. He was aware that bees are important for
pollination. I am telling you this to give you an idea of the history of
pollination. I was about 4 or 5 when my father started moving bees to pollinate
This business grew more and more. Farmers became more and more aware that if
apple seeds were pollinated, they would be better preserved throughout the
After that, my brother took over and there was the matter of pollinating
blueberries in Lac-Saint-Jean. He was one of the first to go up to
Lac-Saint-Jean. He started by providing about 100 hives, and is now up to 1,000.
There are about 30,000 hives that move throughout the Lac-Saint-Jean region.
Hives were then moved to pollinate cranberries, strawberries, cucumbers and
All that to tell you that in my father's time, bees were used to produce
honey for consumption, whereas my brother earns his living mainly through
pollination. I would even say that honey production is an afterthought.
Beekeeping in Quebec was relatively simple. When I was young, it was
necessary to control certain diseases, such as foulbrood — either European or
American foulbrood — which is a bacterial disease; once that was done, it was
relatively easy, in the 1960s and 1970s, to manage bees or hives.
In the 1990s, a parasite appeared, which my colleagues discussed earlier, and
it was called the varroa mite. This parasite migrated from Asia, Europe, and the
south of the United States and came up all the way to Canada. That is when
problems started to occur. As far as parasite control products were concerned,
there was only one certified product in Canada and it was called Apistan, whose
active ingredient was Fluvalinate. Beekeepers only used one single product to
control varroa mites. At the beginning, there were no problems. The product was
relatively effective, even very effective, but over the years, as with
antibiotics, it led to parasite resistance.
When that happens, it is as if you launch a selection process for varroa
mites. They continue to multiply but become resistant to the product. There is a
selection process. If there are no other products to control the parasite, you
end up with a resistance problem.
In 2003, resistance became a massive problem and 50 per cent of hives in
Quebec died due to this resistance problem. MAPAQ, the Quebec Ministry of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, called me because I was well-known in the
beekeeping world. We did several research projects on the different products
that could be used, organic acids and other acids and also thymol, which I
worked on a lot, and my research helped certify a product which is currently
used for controlling varroa mites.
When I was young, we would take out the hives in the spring. The mortality
rate was around 8, 9, or 10 per cent. When the varroa mite came and we lost
control of the invasion, the mortality rate increased to 25 or 30 per cent. In
Quebec, 2003 was a disaster with a 50 per cent mortality rate. We continue to
have around a 30 per cent mortality rate in the winter because of this parasite.
The challenge for beekeepers is to control the varroa mite. To do so, we need
to use different tools. The important thing is to have other tools to control
this parasite and to rotate products in the goal of maintaining effectiveness.
We have effective tools, and we should have other ones too, but it is
absolutely essential that beekeepers be instructed so that they can control or
manage varroa mite parasitism in their bee yards.
One of my colleagues already mentioned this, but there are a lot of
instructions and knowledge that need to be transmitted to beekeepers who may not
yet be in the habit of properly controlling this parasite.
Beekeepers have a huge amount of management skills to learn in order to
control the varroa mite.
If we could control the varroa mite, we could dramatically reduce de
mortality rate in Quebec, particularly in the eastern Quebec and in the rest of
Canada. Another problem that has emerged in the past few years is the use of
coated seeds. This is a big problem. It is a problem we have experienced. Every
spring, there are deaths during the seeding period in my brother's hives. He
called me and told me to come see the bees that were dying. We looked at the
bees, but we did not know what we were looking for, so we wondered why the bees
There were not a massive number of deaths as you might see during crop
dusting of corn fields in August. The deaths were subtle but chronic. We
realized that this problem of chronic mortality was linked to the coated seeds.
We had to find out why the bees were dying because of that.
There is the air seeder. The seeds are coated with a kind of dust and the
seeder is an air seeder, which means it works in a vacuum environment and the
soy or the corn kernels are sucked up and deposited at regular intervals during
the seeding process. So the dust emitted by the air seeder flies off into the
wind, and if it is near a ditch or a woodlot where there are flowers, it poisons
the flowers. That is the principal cause of death.
I have some hives on the roof of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in
Saint-Hyacinthe, around one kilometre from the nearest cornfield. Some bees
That gives you an idea of how far this dust cloud can travel.
In fact, all of the residents of Saint-Hyacinthe breathe in this product,
just like the bees. This problem must extend further than the bees, because we
now know that this travelling dust causes problems.
This is a question of chronic mortality, which is difficult to prove. The
bees bring back pollen and nectar that is probably contaminated to the hives. If
the bee does not die in the field or in the hive it brings back this
contaminated nectar to the hive.
We also realized that in the past, a queen could live for two or three years,
but now queens cannot escape this problem. The turnover of queens is incredible.
So we are wondering what the problem is.
Are these products affecting the fertility of the drones and the reproductive
system of the queens? Is this affecting the egg-laying or the fertilization of
the eggs, or are the drones simply less productive than before? These are the
questions that we are asking.
Is this linked to pesticide use? It is still a mystery, but we think that
there may be links.
To conclude, we have a 30 per cent mortality rate among bees in Eastern
Canada. If you raised cattle, any kind of cattle, and had a mortality rate of 30
per cent, people would hear about it. This is what we are currently experiencing
in Canada. The number of hives in Quebec is declining. It is becoming
discouraging. Year after year, you work to increase your numbers. It is
difficult in the beekeeping world these days, at least in the eastern part of
the country where I live.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Dr. Dubreuil.
Senator Mercer: Dr. Dubreuil, your last couple of sentences summed up
the essence of the problem. If we had this kind of mortality in cattle or hogs,
it would be front page news and people everywhere would be concentrating on it.
All three of you have given us the numbers: about 30 per cent of colonies
each year for six years; up to 46 per cent in Manitoba; and as much as 50 per
cent on occasion in Quebec. Has anyone anywhere in the world found a solution?
Where they have had the varroa mite, have they found any improvements? Are there
any good news stories out there or is it all just bad news?
Mr. Currie: I think there's a lot of good news. There's a lot of
research going on to develop new ways of dealing with the problem. There are
many breeding programs within Canada and throughout North America and the world
to develop strains of bees that are more resistant to the mites and to use those
in combination with a variety of other integrated pest management techniques to
keep the problem under control. Over the last 10 years, we've seen a lot of
progress in various programs within Canada in developing those bees. We don't
have a bee yet to put out there that will be immune to the mites, but we
certainly have produced a number of stocks that seem to have greater levels of
A lot of work is going on with respect to new acaricides that can be put in
place. You will hear later from Dr. Nasr, who has been working on acaricide
testing, and we've been doing a lot of that in my lab. At this time, we don't
have an acaricide coming down the pipe that is equivalent to the two that the
mites have developed resistance to or that is as effective as the current one in
place. That's a major concern and is obviously a major priority.
Work is happening in some new innovative control techniques. Many people are
looking at a technique called RNAi, which is a way of producing a form of
double-stranded RNA that can control both mites and viruses. We have done that
in my lab for one of the important viruses, the deformed wing virus. Other
groups are working on some of the other viruses, and a group of researchers and
companies in the U.S. are working on that same technique for a new product for
controlling varroa, but certainly that won't be ready to go any time soon.
Much of the work going on is targeted not only at finding the magic bullet
for varroa but also at looking at it in the following context: If we can't find
the magic bullet for varroa, let's try to control all the other stresses,
including the pesticides, the in-hive-produced ones, the environmental ones,
better nutrition and better bee genetics. That ultimately may be the way to
solve it. It's a multifactorial problem and we need multifactorial solutions.
Senator Mercer: What can the Government of Canada due to help this
process along? It seems that we have a lot of good research happening in many
different areas. Are you talking to each other? Are you exchanging information
as you're progressing and stealing each other's ideas so that you're improving
as you go along? As I say, Dr. Guzman talked about six years and 30 per cent,
which is a long time. We obviously need to fix that. What do we need to do?
Mr. Currie: We prefer to call stealing each other's ideas
``collaboration,'' but we do that. In Canada, we have a tight- knit group of
researchers working in apiculture. The Canadian Association of Professional
Apiculturists meets annually to talk about what's going on and potential
solutions. There's an awful lot of research collaboration going on between the
members of that group. As well, recently there was a nationwide network of
people working on pollination that includes all pollinators looking at the plant
and bee side of the equation and other insect pollinators. That is the
Many of the individuals you have interviewed, Ernesto Guzman, Peter Kevan,
and I are all members of that group. That was another networking thing that
helped us to come up with collaborative solutions. We are collaborating where
possible. We're trying to put our collective brains into the problem.
At the same time, we are trying not to duplicate research in each location,
but some is necessary because there are vast regional differences in management.
If we apply an acaricide in Manitoba, it may have a different effect than it has
in Quebec. We need regional replication of the various techniques so that we
understand how to best apply these things across the country.
Mr. Guzman: I wish I were a senator, not a researcher. I think my wife
would be happier, but I don't know.
Dr. Currie already mentioned all the work that has been done here in Canada
and elsewhere. Yes, we collaborate and that will probably yield some good
results in the future. To answer the question of the senator about what the
Canadian government can do about this, I think they could help with more funds
for research. What we can do is very limited with the sources of funding that we
have. We could do much more if we had more money for research.
The Canadian government could also facilitate the development of policies for
factors that are not only the varroa mites. As Dr. Currie and Dr. Dubreuil said,
it is not the only culprit we are dealing with. It is only one of the factors.
For example, beekeepers cannot do anything about the effect of these
neonicotinoid pesticides or other pesticides. They are out of their control. We
could probably help beekeepers with more technology transfer — to educate them
as to what products to use, what to use to control the mite, and when to apply
medications against the mite. There is nothing they can do about the effect of
these pesticides in the environment. That could be resolved only with new
Dr. Dubreuil: Essentially, there is the PMRA, the agency that approves
new molecules. Obviously, I understand that they have to control things and to
ensure that the molecules that we use are safe, but I would say that if they
were a little bit more flexible that could help us approve new molecules.
Another thing, which Mr. Currie mentioned, would be to check if the
pesticides that are being used for seeds or other things are being used
properly. Is it necessary to use these products? I know that in Quebec, studies
have been conducted to check whether it is necessary to use those seeds and I
urge you take a look at the results, because I think the use of these products
is sometimes questionable.
I would say that even in Quebec, when you buy seeds, it is almost impossible
to buy seeds that are not coated with insecticide. That gives you an idea of how
these pesticides are being used without really knowing if it is necessary to use
I think that Mr. Currie mentioned this earlier, but in the east, this is very
important. Is the use of these products justified?
Senator Maltais: Witnesses, thank you very much for being here. It has
been very interesting listening to you, and your testimony will undoubtedly
contribute to the preparation of our report on a real problem that exists in
Professor Dubreuil, I would like to speak to you because you are an expert in
Quebec in the field of beekeeping. One might say that you fell into a pot of
honey when you were very young and that you have been researching it ever since.
You have said two things that have struck me. You are the first witness who has
spoken of the importance of these powder-added grains and their effect on
results. Do they produce a better harvest? Do they give higher quality corn? And
if there were another natural fertilizer, would one see the same result?
Dr. Dubreuil: Well, you are asking me to answer a question about grain
production, and I am not an expert in that field. That is why, as I mentioned
earlier, I suggest that you seek information from someone who has undertaken
studies in this field to verify the result.
Senator Maltais: You are right. We will go back to the subject of bees
Dr. Dubreuil: I am sorry that I cannot answer your question.
Senator Maltais: I understand. It is a slightly ambiguous question. We
can discuss it with other researchers.
To come back to bees, we are seeing losses of 30 or 40 per cent. As you said,
that could mean the difference between bankruptcy and success for a business.
However, I am intrigued by the fact that, at the beginning of your presentation,
you said that your father and your brother pollinate in the regions of
Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and the North Shore. We heard witnesses from that region
last week who told us that their bees were less affected. I did some research on
the Internet, and I discovered that producers in Newfoundland and Labrador are
almost not affected at all. Nor are producers in northern Quebec, on the North
Shore, in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, or even those in the Lake Nipissing region in
northern Ontario. Does the cold prevent the formation of these microbes? Why are
these regions less affected?
Dr. Dubreuil: Are you referring to overwintering mortality?
Senator Maltais: Yes.
Dr. Dubreuil: As Rob was saying earlier, overwinter mortality is
affected by several factors. It is hard to give a specific answer to that
question without taking up too much time. Overwintering mortality is associated
with the fall preparation of the hive for the winter. As Rob was saying, after
the queen lays her eggs in August, the bees that are born in September and even
October will maintain the hive through winter and restart the hive in the
spring. If you have a bad beekeeping season in August, if there is a drought and
there is little pollen coming into the hive, your hive will already be in
trouble in August and the young bees that are born will be in poor condition and
there will be fewer of them. The hive will be weakened.
I cannot answer your question as to why the north would be less affected.
Southern Quebec is a grain-growing region; does that mean there is contact
with pesticides? Is there a relationship between a small level of pesticide
residue and the ability of the bees to overwinter? Do small amounts of pesticide
interfere with their system? These are all possible hypotheses. Is the bee's
immune system affected? We do not know. It is complicated.
Senator Tardif: Thank you, gentlemen, for being here this evening. All
three of you have spoken to the need for more education, better dissemination of
information and better information on how to manage bees. To what extent are bee
management practices part of the problem?
Mr. Currie: That's a difficult question. Bee management practices are
quite different based on the goals of the beekeeper. Some are basically
preparing their hives for pollination. Maybe in Ontario they are taking them off
to the East Coast for blueberry pollination. Some in Alberta are moving around
for pollination of hybrid canola. In other regions of Canada, Manitoba and
Saskatchewan primarily, the beekeepers and their colonies are quite stationary,
and they typically only move tens of kilometres to move their hives.
Beekeeping management practices are quite varied, and the beekeepers need
information on how to basically manage their colonies correctly within the
context of their environment to try to keep these pests and parasites under
control, and they need a lot of information to understand all those
In some cases, misapplication of hive-applied pesticides can contribute to
the problem, and in some cases things happen that we don't understand. A
beekeeper could be applying a hive-applied insecticide and there could be an
interaction with a fungicide that is coming into the hives from the crops.
Sometimes interactions occur between hive- applied pesticides and stresses with
varroa mites. In a recent experiment we did, one would think that getting the
treatment on early and getting good control of varroa would be the best
approach. In fact that was, in that particular situation in Saskatchewan, in the
fall, the worst thing to do because the combination of stress of the acaricide
and varroa ended up causing more damage than the treatment itself.
As we've said, it's a complex issue, and we need a lot of information on all
these interactions so we can give good recommendations to beekeepers that are
applicable to their specific management paradigms.
Senator Tardif: How is the information disseminated presently, how
should it be done and who should be responsible for it?
Mr. Currie: The current approach to dissemination of information is
multi-faceted. Individual researchers in Canada that are doing applied research
are very good about getting out to beekeeping meetings and presenting their
results through that forum. They typically would present research results in
local beekeepers newsletters and a Canadian magazine called Hivelights.
The other critical component is the offices and facilities of the provincial
apiarists and provincial extension teams. Several provinces, such as Ontario and
Saskatchewan, have what they call tech transfer teams, and these teams have been
valuable in not only disseminating information associated with research but also
doing research and getting it out there.
In Quebec, you have people like Pierre Giovenazzo, who works with a lot of
the people in your provincial government and collaborates with them, and they're
very good at communicating that information to the beekeepers. I think most of
that communication is done on a one-to-one basis, and the critical thing is
getting funding to maintain those people.
Senator Robichaud: You mentioned that those people in the provinces do
a good job of transferring the knowledge. Do they have as many people now as
they had in the past, or have their efforts been diminished in any way?
Mr. Currie: In some cases, there has been an expansion. In
Saskatchewan, for example, the tech transfer team is now present and headed by
Graham Parsons. He's fairly new. He started about two years ago. He's also doing
a master's degree in my lab at the same time to get better training.
In Manitoba, the situation has declined somewhat. The extension branch of the
Manitoba government, for example, has removed the inspection staff that used to
go out and provide advice and sampling for beekeepers.
Depending upon the individual province, the situation may be a little bit
different. I think what's needed is the funding in place to sustain and maintain
those programs, especially in dire situations like we're in now. The tech
transfer teams are often very susceptible because they're usually funded through
soft funding money. They often have to apply for grants. From day to day, week
to week, month to month, they don't necessarily know if the funding will be in
place to keep all their staff on. Some sustainable set-up for those people would
be something that would help in terms of the funding situation.
Senator Robichaud: And in Quebec?
Mr. Dubreuil: A lot of work has been done by the government of Quebec,
specifically by the MAPAQ, to create timelines or different approaches for
treatments. The MAPAQ has done excellent work. It is rare that a government is
praised, but I feel that the work has been very well done. Where there is a
problem is in education, in the knowledge transfer to by beekeepers. In Quebec,
there are roughly 700 registered beekeepers, but there are maybe 80 who are true
beekeepers, who live off of their hives. For those who not live off of their
hives, the level of follow-up and population control is sometimes insufficient.
That does not help the system.
The Chair: Dr. Guzman, do you have any comments?
Mr. Guzman: I just wanted to add that, for Ontario, there is strong
support for the technology transfer team. The issue is that most beekeepers are
hobby beekeepers or small-scale beekeepers, and it's hard for the tech transfer
team to reach all of them. We need more courses, perhaps, more workshops, so
that we can at least make the information and technology that we have today
available to all beekeepers, in all locations of each province, to reduce the
mortality cases. Probably, it's more important to support those tech transfer
programs, as well as research conducted by researchers in universities and other
institutions so that we can work together with the tech transfer teams and a
chain is established from the knowledge generated by researchers to the tech
transfer teams and from the tech transfer teams to the beekeepers. Again, this
is a matter of more funding to increase the level of activity. What's being done
by the tech transfer team and researchers is fine; it's in the right direction.
We just need to do more of that.
Senator Eaton: Has apiculture kept up with agriculture? We listened to
the blueberry growers from the Maritimes the other day telling us we're growing
crops so intensively now that the demand for beehives or bee pollination is
enormous, but it seems as if apiculture hasn't made the same strides as
agriculture. Is that a fair comment?
Mr. Currie: I'm not sure that it's a fair comment. I think it's driven
by economics. Obviously, each individual is producing the number of hives that
they need to make a living and directing their opportunities where the economic
benefit is going to be the greatest. People in the Prairies focus on honey
production because they get amazing yields of honey out there. If the price for
pollination is high enough, I think it's a case of, ``If you build it, they will
come.'' If the economic return is there, the beehives can be generated.
Senator Eaton: We've heard from other witnesses that there seems to be
a huge shortage and that they have trouble finding enough hives to pollinate the
blueberry patches, for instance. I'm just thinking of that particular one. You
don't see that? You think that, eventually, we'll learn enough about keeping
bees to be sustainable?
Mr. Currie: I look at the case of almonds in the U.S. When they
started to have huge economic losses of beehives and had difficulty supplying
beehives there, I think the almond growers came to the realization that these
bees are important, and instead of paying $40 per hive to rent a colony, they
are now paying in the neighbourhood of about $150 a hive. They're getting their
hives. They've changed their management paradigm to recognize the value of the
bees, and I think that if the price is appropriate, the beekeepers will probably
be able to provide the service. That's my opinion.
Senator Eaton: I don't know as much about it as you do. How does money
affect the health of the bee?
Mr. Currie: Money doesn't affect the health of the bee, but money
affects the health of the beekeeping operation.
Senator Eaton: In what sense? Do they overwinter better?
Mr. Currie: They could purchase bees from offshore. They can manage
their colonies to make nucleus colonies that will overwinter. If he knew there
was a lucrative pollination market coming up in the next year, the beekeeper
could, for example, split colonies and say, ``Okay, I'm going to abandon honey
production as part of my management objective and just make nucleus colonies for
Part of the problem right now is probably that the economic price point isn't
quite right. If that were adjusted, I would suspect that most beekeepers would
be able to revise their management paradigms to produce more colonies if they
were receiving a good economic return for it.
Senator Eaton: That's a very interesting idea.
Talking about sharing knowledge, Dr. Guzman, we had an interesting couple of
witnesses from Ontario, one of whom was a farmer. He was telling us some of the
things he's putting into practice, for instance, sowing corn and soybeans at
night or doing it when there's no wind, telling the people who have hives near
him the nights he is going to sow the corn near them with neonicotinoids. There
are certain practices he is undertaking, like leaving strips of land where bees
naturally pollinate so they can find enough other food.
Is there a disconnect between apiculture and agriculture? Do they talk to
each other? Are there things that a farmer can naturally do that would help?
Mr. Guzman: Simple communication would help a lot. Corn growers or
soybean growers do not normally communicate with beekeepers because they're not
their clients. Honeybees are not rented to pollinate those crops, and,
therefore, they don't talk. Of course, if they communicated at least the day
they plan to plant seeds or spray crops, that would at least give notice to the
beekeeper to move their colonies away, if needed, or take other measures. Yes,
certainly communication should be better between growers and beekeepers, but it
is on the side of the growers, I would say. It's in their court because, when
they plant those coated seeds of corn and soybeans, they use machines that
produce a talc that drifts into the air and seems to get to the bees somehow.
Apparently, part of the problem is that this dust containing the pesticides
lands on other plants that are visited by bees. For example, in spring, we have
the dandelions. Bees depend on dandelions to collect pollen, and dandelions near
corn or soybean fields are contaminated by this dust. When bees collect that
contaminated pollen, they become poisoned.
It's good that the grower you referred to is trying to help to reduce the
risk of contamination and contact with bees, but that's probably not enough. I
don't want to say what growers should be doing because I'm not an expert in that
area. I'm an expert on bees. You should invite growers to give their perspective
as to what they can do to help the beekeeping industry. I said before: Yes, we
have a terrible problem with the varroa mite, but at least beekeepers have some
tools to control the mite. It's in their hands.
When the grower will plant corn or soybeans is not in the beekeeper's hands,
and it should be the responsibility of the grower to at least notify the
beekeeper that they're going to plant at a particular time of the year.
Mr. Guzman: Bees can fly 2,000 metres, and you cannot put them in
pens. You have to move them away.
Senator Eaton: I want to ask one last question. There are so many
things I want to ask you. Is it true that the majority of bees that pollinate in
Canada are what they call the European honeybee?
Mr. Guzman: Yes. The bees we work with are descendants of European
races of honeybees.
Mr. Currie: The other two managed species are the leafcutter bee and
Senator Eaton: Is there any way of cross-breeding them or doing
something genetically — I shall use the term ``modify'' them — to help them
overwinter or to make them stronger?
Mr. Guzman: As Rob Currie said we have been working on trying to breed
better bees. It's not an easy task because honey bees mate in the air with
dozens of drones sometimes. You cannot control who they mate with. There are
breeding programs that are developing new strains of bees that are more tolerant
to diseases but are still dependent on chemical treatment against the mites. You
cannot mate European honey bees with other species of bees — we wouldn't be able
to breed a better bee that way, at least not now. Perhaps when biotechnology
develops new methods of transferring genes from one species to another we will
be able to do that, but we're not at that stage.
The Chair: Honourable senators, and witnesses, looking at the time
frame and the second panel, I still have four senators to ask questions.
Therefore, the chair will recognize only four minutes and I will then ask
Senator Rivard for a question, followed by Senator Dagenais, followed by Senator
Bellemare. I would ask the witnesses, please, to shorten your answers.
Senator Rivard: My question will be very brief, and because we have a
witness from Quebec I will take this opportunity to learn more about what is
happening in Quebec. You spoke about the MAPAQ and about the federal support for
bee research in Quebec. I understand that the University of Montreal is doing
You also spoke about the school of agriculture in Saint-Hyacinthe. I believe
that the largest distributor of honey in Quebec is Miel Doyon. Does that company
or does your family business invest in research to improve the quality of honey?
Dr. Dubreuil: First of all, Doyon exists today in name only because it
was purchased, I believe, by Billy Bee of Toronto. In addition, every year the
Fédération des producteurs de miel du Québec is asked to support research
programs. Obviously, beekeeping is not a rich industry, and people tend not to
support research because it is not part of their culture.
However, the federation itself invests to a certain extent, with both money
and in-kind support, in research projects with the Deschambault research
Senator Dagenais: My question is for Dr. Dubreuil. I have had the
opportunity to visit the veterinary school in Saint-Hyacinthe and I know that
they are working in close cooperation with Europe. Correct me if I am wrong, but
the French seem to have identified some possible solutions using electric or
Is there still collaboration between your research and the research being
done in Europe that could bring some kind of solution to the problem of falling
bee populations in Quebec and in the rest of Canada?
Dr. Dubreuil: The Europeans are facing similar problems to those we
face. They are also dealing with high and severe levels of mortality. They have
concluded that controlling the varroa mite is still the best approach to try to
control the worst mortalities. The Europeans have the same problems with
insecticides, but at different levels and on a different scope according to the
climate or the region.
Obviously, we are all taking. The beekeeping world is not very big. Indeed,
APIMONDIA was in Quebec two years ago as part of a discussion within the
Senator Dagenais: Does the fight against the varroa mite take place
only when the bees are overwintering, or can they be fought at different times
of the year?
Dr. Dubreuil: It can be done in spring before the honeyflow begins, to
prevent the presence of residue, or it can be done completely at the end of the
fall honeyflow, before the bees begin to overwinter. In this way we can remove a
parasite that will interfere with a bee's growth, or with the birth of new
infected bees. The treatments are done in spring or in the fall.
Senator Bellemare: I will just make a comment about what is done
elsewhere. I believe that this problem involves significant costs in some
sectors. Research is probably a priority so that we can have a better idea of
what the most important factors are.
Senator Robichaud: What do you think of the fact that beehives can be
sent from one province to another or even from the U.S. to Canada? Opinions on
this topic vary.
Mr. Currie: From my standpoint in Manitoba, there are several
producers that do move colonies to British Columbia and actually winter there
and then move them back each year. In order to do that, they need inspection
certificates to make sure that the colonies are healthy before they cross those
interprovincial borders. From a federal standpoint, there are different opinions
in different provinces as to the situation and whether bees should be allowed to
move across national borders, between the U.S. and Canada. I personally don't
have an opinion on that because it's more of a political issue and I try to keep
independent of that.
The Chair: To Dr. Guzman, Dr. Currie and Dr. Dubreuil, thank you very
much for sharing your opinions and comments.
Honourable senators, the committee will now hear our second panel. We welcome
Medhat Nasr, PhD, President of the Canadian Association of Professional
Apiculturists; and Mr. Barry Denluck, President of the BC Bee Breeders
As you have witnessed, this subject matter is attracting a lot of interest. I
am informed by the clerk that Mr. Denluck will be the first presenter, to be
followed by Dr. Nasr.
Barry Denluck, President, BC Bee Breeders Association: I am Barry
Denluck, President of the BC Bee Breeders Association and a beekeeper in the
southern islands area of B.C. Today I am here to represent the BC Bee Breeders
Association of B.C. We, the members of the association, appreciate the
opportunity to provide you with information on the important ongoing work that
we are doing to help improve the health of honeybees in Canada.
In addition to the brief I submitted last week with data specific to B.C., I
would like to talk in more general terms about Canada as a whole.
The honeybee industry has three major parts that are inextricably connected:
pollination, honey collection and stock production. Pollination and honey
collection require good honeybee stock to be cost effective. Stock production
requires healthy pollination and honey collection industries to utilize the
You heard from a previous witness on the need for more beehives to pollinate
wild blueberries. A short-term solution of opening the U.S. border to bee
imports is an option the bee breeders of B.C. are on record as being definitely
against in order to maintain the relatively high health status Canada has as
compared to other countries in the world, as reported by Dr. Silva.
Canada has the largest nectar-producing area on the planet, yet we are not
the top honey-producing country. The Fraser Valley of B.C. has developed
cultivated blueberries as a major crop with less than one hive per acre
available for pollination, even though research suggests four hives per acre
would be a good economic fit. In summary, Canada definitely needs more bees.
More specifically, Canada needs bees adapted to the climate and environment
unique to Canada's varied areas. To understand the adaptability of honeybees, we
need to look at the science of proteomics, the expression of genes in the
production of proteins. I must defer details of the science to Dr. Leonard
Foster at UBC, arguably the foremost authority on genetics and associated fields
like proteomics as they pertain specifically to honeybees.
Every hive starts with a queen bee. Bee breeders in B.C. and across Canada
have been developing the Canadian adapted honeybee. I believe a Canadian
solution to providing sufficient quality and quantity of queen bees is very
possible. The time is right for the bee breeders of Canada to unite in building
an industry capable of providing several hundred thousand annually for our
domestic market, thereby supporting bee health and sustainability in our
industry. We the BC Bee Breeders Association are working with municipal,
provincial and federal departments to make this a reality in the near future.
In closing, I would like to thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the
committee, for providing us with this opportunity to speak to you today on this
very important topic.
The Chair: We will now hear from Mr. Medhat Nasr, from the Canadian
Association of Professional Apiculturists.
Medhat Nasr, PhD, President, Canadian Association of Professional
Apiculturists: Honourable senators, I'm here today to represent the Canadian
Association of Professional Apiculturists. It's a very long name, but what does
it mean? We have over 40 professional apiculturists, researchers, extension
personnel, regulatory personnel. That's about 10 regulatory provincial
apiculturists in Canada, one in each province, and we have some consultants who
do some work on honeybees.
It's a very narrow field and very small, but as an organization, we always
make our service available to the stakeholders, regardless of whether they are
government agencies, beekeepers or growers, to offer some help with any aspects
This organization has been around for the last forty years. Some of our
members work at the university doing research on honeybees. We have some members
who do the technology transfer or dissemination of information, and we have some
regulatory guys who take care of honeybee health and do inspection and
surveillance. We have programs in each province, and the head of each program
actually is a member of this association.
To give you an example, we organized an import committee to deal with
honeybee import issues. For the last eight years, I was the chair of that
committee, working with the CFIA to make sure that our regulation will meet
industry needs and demands, and also maintain the health of the beekeeping
industry in Canada. I had the privilege to be elected last week to become the
president. It's a big responsibility.
Also, we have a chemical committee. We used to look after all the chemicals
that we need to improve bee health and manage and control diseases. We work side
by side with the pest management regulatory agencies. Unfortunately, most of
these federal agencies don't have a specialist to work in this area. For
example, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has veterinarians who regulate the
honeybees, but for expertise in honeybees, they rely on us professionals to help
them understand the issues and to make the decisions. It is the same thing with
the PMRA, and we work with them side by side.
We also have a group working with education and one working with developing
research priorities. Every five years we meet with industry. Last week, we had
the five-year national meeting in Edmonton. We sat down for half a day with
industry to develop our research priority over the next five years. Definitely,
I'm not going to go through the whole thing. My colleagues on the previous panel
attended these meetings and were involved in developing that list of priorities.
I'm here to say that we have some professionals to do the job, but this is
one side of the whole equation about bees. Bees always need farmers and crops to
forage. In my expertise, it seems to me that at this time what's lacking is
coexistence and understanding the needs of each other — farmers and beekeepers.
To tell you a little about my background, I came from Egypt in 1979. I got my
education in California, which is the heart of the beekeeping industry in the
world. After that, I came to Canada because of the mites. I was offered a job
and citizenship to work on mites.
I worked in Ontario for 10 years. We developed a program for technology
transfer, which has become the centre of dissemination of information, working
side by side with the beekeepers to make them understand the issue. The learning
curve is so steep. You used to get thousands of packages of bees from
California, put them in boxes, end up with 200 to 300 pounds of honey, and kill
the bees at the end of every fall.
Beekeeping management had to change. Over the last 30 years beekeeping has
become perennial. You have to maintain the bees through the winter and the
summer, which has required a lot of learning in terms of technology and
When I came to Canada, I lived in Ontario for 10 years and then moved to
Alberta, where there is the largest beekeeping industry in Canada. Forty-three
per cent of the bees in Canada are in Alberta. When I arrived in Alberta 2002,
we had 195,000 hives. Today, we have 282,000 hives in Alberta.
The question comes back again: Are all bees healthy? The simple answer is,
no. We have a lot of challenges, and I will not repeat why. The four or five
factors mentioned by my colleagues are real. The question is: If we have lost 30
per cent every year for the last six years, then we have lost 180 per cent of
our bees; so no bees should exist in Canada. It is the same situation in the
United States. It seems that beekeeping is in the blood of the beekeeper: ``I
lost 30 per cent, so I have to make 40 per cent to stay in business.'' Some of
you mentioned earlier that if you are in business losing 30 per cent every year,
then you should be bankrupt by now and not exist. This is the challenge and
dilemma we suffer. Is it really a good business for a new entry? No.
I have a son who is 11 years old. When he was 5 years old, I took him to
Disneyland, like anyone would do. When he saw Winnie the Pooh walking around, he
went to him and said, ``My dad works as a beekeeper.'' The guy came over and
started taking pictures with him. He looked at him and said, ``The bees are
dying.'' I took the words in my head and said, ``Will we have bees for my son
when he grows older or for my grandchildren?'' I left for home with tears in my
eyes thinking that we should do better. At the same time, I think in Canada we
can do a better job.
I always use Alberta as an example, going from 195,000 hives to 282,000
hives. Back in 2007, we lost 45 per cent of the bees in Alberta. However, we
worked together to build it up again. Still, we lose bees but the question is:
Is this industry sustainable? It's up to you guys. The responsibility of the
situation is in your hands as representing us with the government.
Do we have resources? I don't think we have enough. Do we have a policy?
Unfortunately, no, it's always reactive.
We need to start being proactive to help this industry move forward. Keep in
mind $2 billion in the hands of the business of beekeepers to keep the growth
going in Canada. We feed the world.
Believe it or not, since last September, I haven't been in my house for two
weeks. I've been involved in too many activities and going out to talk about
what we are doing differently in Alberta and in Canada in general. We need to
have a system.
As a matter of fact, next week I'm invited again to attend a summit on varroa
mites held by USDA. I believe I'm the only Canadian invited from here. When
colony collapse disorder happens, they call me up and ask me to speak my mind to
their guys. We have the chance in our hands to do a good job; and I trust we can
Senator Mercer: Thank you, gentlemen, for being here.
Mr. Nasr, you talked about the success you've had in Alberta after losing so
many bees and being able to build it up to 282,000 hives. How did you do that?
As we've said, people are losing a lot of bees; and people are bouncing back.
How did you become so successful in recouping the losses?
Mr. Nasr: Alberta beekeepers are so competitive, and it starts with
the beekeeper. Basically, they sit down with government and work with them. I
work as a provincial apiculturist. As a matter of fact, I wear three hats:
regulatory, extension and research. Although Alberta is the largest beekeeping
region, we don't have an academic program at the university to do research, so I
have to carry on that program. It's so amazing, but I have the drive.
Actually, we sat down with the beekeepers. We need good tools. At the time we
recognized through our research that CheckMite strips, a chemical to control
varroa mites, was no longer working as resistance developed. I had to put my
career on the line to work with PMRA to get the product from France; and we got
it registered here.
We worked with industry and hired inspectors. Those inspectors are no longer
inspectors. They used to go out to the field and work with the beekeepers to
monitor the mites and teach them how to change their habit of sticking the strip
inside the hive and it should do its job. No, we need to make the decision on
the fly and monitor and do better surveillance of the job. We did this work for
three years. Now they understand that management is not only making honey but
also keeping bees alive. That hands-on experience made a big difference in the
whole industry. We spent $700,000 on this program. I see the benefits, as you
said. Every year we are losing 20 per cent, but we make 25 or 30 per cent extra,
so every year we are increasing by 5 to 10 per cent. Does it take lots of money?
What really helped us? Dr. Currie mentioned business. What we found is that
the honey prices went to $2 and the pollination prices increased. Now they can
compensate for their business cost and make a living. If this guy is not going
to make a living, he may as well just go to the oil patch and he will make good
money. But we need to keep those guys working in the field and keep those bees
alive. It's hands-on plus money resources to keep them going.
Senator Eaton: Mr. Denluck, in your presentation you were talking
about the number of queen bees that B.C. used to produce, 20,000, I think, in
2005 and 2006, but now it only produces 10,000 queen bees a year. Why the drop?
Mr. Denluck: I was talking to one of our bee breeders last week before
coming out. That single bee breeder used to produce 5,000 bees that were shipped
to the Prairies for the prairie beekeepers. Now their amount of queens going
east is zero. They produce maybe a thousand locally, and the beekeepers on
Vancouver and the south islands are buying those up. There are no extras going
Senator Eaton: Why? Is it because there's no demand for them?
Mr. Denluck: The demand is very strong. I will defer to Medhat, but I
suspect 220,000 queens annually are imported from offshore.
Senator Eaton: Are they cheaper?
Mr. Denluck: Yes. They have been cheaper. I will recognize that this
year with added pests to manage in offshore sites like Hawaii, which now has the
small hive beetle, their costs have gone up and their charge has also gone up.
They are now in the order of US$20 a bee, possibly $25 Canadian, landed in
Canada, as opposed to what was $10 Canadian only five, six or seven years ago.
So the economics have changed positively in our direction to support queen
rearing. The varroa mite is better managed now, and I think it's time to rebuild
this internal queen-rearing business in Canada.
Senator Eaton: Do you think now that the economy has switched and the
dollar has dropped that people will take it upon themselves to start raising
more Canadian queen bees here?
Mr. Denluck: Yes. We have bee breeders in B.C. already developing
that. I think the next change is to bring it to a size of a commercial operation
of significance, so instead of one-person operations producing maybe 1,000,
2,000 or 3,000 queens, we need to get somebody to take the financial leap and
produce 50,000 or 100,000.
Senator Eaton: It's an economy of size?
Mr. Denluck: Yes, economy of size. If we can get the first one to show
it works and you can make money, I am sure 10 more will follow.
Senator Robichaud: Mr. Nasr, you are President of the Canadian
Association of Professional Apiculturists. In relation to what you are doing,
what is your relationship with the research community,?
Mr. Nasr: The research community is part of us. If I look at the
structure, there are 40 members. All the research community doing honeybee
research are members of the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists.
We have lots of communication and cooperation. It's not that one will try to
make his own fame because he has his own ideas and is doing it in secret. No, we
work very cooperatively and in an open environment.
I commend our association. It's the centre of envy of lots of places around
the world. A colleague from the United States who attended our meeting last week
in Edmonton said, ``This is a model we should follow,'' because we respond to
industry needs. In addition, as an academic, he wants to publish research and do
things to advance his career.
All my focus is applied research and working with farmers. I always consider
part of that job is filling in the missing link. Researchers sometimes do a lot
of advanced technology. Once it comes to the farmers, they cannot really deliver
the information. It always goes above their heads. However, in our program and
the technology transfer program — and I see similar programming happening in
Quebec — that's why those guys work closely and it becomes easy for the
beekeepers to adopt the technology. We have a strong relationship with our
Senator Robichaud: You have also said you put a certain amount of
money into research. It's considerable, isn't it?
Mr. Nasr: For ourselves in Alberta, we did. However, all of this
money, as Dr. Currie mentioned, is soft money. It's almost from year to year, or
every three years. If you don't have a sustainable resource of money and a
budget, for example, when colony collapse disorder happened in the United
States, the federal government spent almost $80 million to get to the bottom of
it, and they haven't even found the cause. If I look at Canada and how many
thousands of dollars they spent, it depends. If I can justify or rationalize my
work, I can get money. I think we let it go for the last five years because bees
went under the radar; they're not cows or pigs. But now, finally, ``Oops, what's
If you ask me about action, the Canadian government should begin to consider
providing a sustainable source of money or using existing resources to say,
``This is the priority.'' That's what we haven't translated in bringing that
message to the federal government.
As Rob Currie mentioned, the inspection program of my colleague in Manitoba
to monitor disease and surveillance has been cut, at the time when we are losing
bees. Do we have a national policy? No.
Senator Robichaud: Should the work of this committee, then, have a
certain degree of concentration on developing policy?
Mr. Nasr: I hate to say that, but I think it is your responsibility.
Senator Robichaud: That's why we're looking at this.
Mr. Nasr: Let me tell you one thing. I've been in Canada for 24 years
and was in the United States for 10. Having a policy in place and all of this
fancy stuff without action and monitoring is not going to go anywhere. In the
United States, since the CCD happened, there's a Congress meeting every year to
audit the progress. Before releasing the next year's money, they have to make
sure progress is happening toward solutions. That's how we need to monitor this
I heard last week New Brunswick needs 20,000 hives over the next 10 years. If
we are not going to grow this industry in the Maritimes, we will be in deep
trouble. That will affect the blueberry production. If we think bringing bees
from the United States will be the solution, they don't have enough for their
own pollination. Almond pollination requires 1.6 million hives to move from all
the states to California for pollination.
Senator Oh: My question is similar to the one before. We've been
listening and we know we are into an orange colour now, in big danger. In your
report, the annual value or contribution of honeybees to crops could reach as
high as $2.3 billion. But so far with the ideas of researchers like you, all of
you put together a blueprint to see where we go from here. To the federal
government? What is the best recommendation to stop this? As you can see, the
problem is deteriorating every year.
Mr. Nasr: Thank you very much for this question.
Today we got an invitation from Canada Agriculture. On March 25 they invited
the stakeholders to look at developing a strategy to help the bees. I think
that's a good start, and it should not stop there.
Last week, we had a meeting. We sat down around a room, about 40 members, in
addition to the Canadian Honey Council members, and we developed a strategy for
research priorities. It's another good start.
I hope that momentum will continue. With your support and taking care of this
baby, we can bring it to something more productive for our business; so there's
a good start.
Senator Tardif: Dr. Nasr, I must say how pleased I am. I'm a senator
from Alberta. I am pleased that you are an Alberta provincial apiculturist. We
are very fortunate to have you.
You mentioned in your comments that the Alberta beekeepers had been able to
come back from an important loss of beehives in 2007; and you mentioned that you
had brought in a product from France and that you had to, as you said, stake
your reputation on having it approved and brought in for the province of
Alberta. Can other provinces bring this in? What exactly is this product that
turned out to be good for the province of Alberta?
Mr. Nasr: Actually, once we realized there was an issue, and I
recognized this product could help our industry at the time, the losses were
across the country. But we have to have emergency registration, which requires
rationale from each province to say we need it.
At the time, being stubborn, I guess, they said to go ahead and ask for
Alberta. I said for all of Canada or not? Actually, in the morning, the PMRA
called me up and said, ``Go ahead and submit for Alberta and we'll see how it
goes.'' By the afternoon, with the stakeholders calling the minister's office,
they called me back and said, ``Medhat, stop, apply for all of Canada.''
The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists always works on behalf
of Canadian beekeepers, not individual provinces. That really helped us to work
as a unit. We don't want to see one side of the country having an advantage over
Senator Tardif: Now all of Canada has that particular product?
Mr. Nasr: Yes.
Senator Tardif: Do you think we should have national standards in
Mr. Nasr: Absolutely, yes. We have national standards right now for
bee imports from the United States, and even though demands from one province to
the other vary. For example, Alberta and Manitoba would like to have more bees
coming in. The rest of the country is trying to take a cautious step by saying,
``It is not as healthy or it might reduce the health and increase risk, why
should we?'' So we rely on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to do risk
assessment and determine if it is risky or not. These are areas of successful
stories, but we need now to have this national strategy for bee health in
There's a new term we have to work on — coexistence. Farmers like to have
pesticide for insurance; beekeepers say it kills their bees. Now we have to find
a middle way, to use it in a proper way without impacting our environment.
That's the kind of environment we need to promote — coexistence. That's a
challenge for all of us.
Senator Tardif: I really liked the use of that phrase: understanding
each other and the need for coexistence. I think that's a really important
Senator Dagenais: Thank you to both our guests. Mr. Nasr, in your
presentation you mentioned that, despite diseases and the decrease in bee
colonies, you were able in Alberta to reverse the process, since bee colonies,
the bee population, did increase.
What, in your opinion, is the key factor that led to this increase? Is it the
fact that farmers used different fertilizers? Is it pesticides or the weather?
Since you were successful, I imagine it would be interesting to export this
success to other regions in Canada so that they can also benefit from it. I
would like to hear what you think about this.
Mr. Nasr: As I said, it starts with the beekeepers. If they have the
drive and they have the resources, they will work. The question is tools. As I
mentioned, with the change of the product, we have better tools and education.
I also said that they moved from beekeeping, to being reactive. If they lose
bees they might get really upset, depressed and move on, but we try to make sure
that they are proactive.
I always give them this example. As a human being, every year I have to go
and see my doctor for an annual checkup. He will determine if my cholesterol is
high or my blood pressure is high and will give me an indication that I have to
take some steps before I have a heart attack. That's the question. Don't wait
until you have a heart attack and have to be taken to emergency and hopefully
something will help you. That concept of changing the whole switch in their head
works well. I always talk about it. They might love my accent; they pay
attention. We work together: education, dissemination of information, and trust.
The question is: If I lose this product, which we get from France today,
what's next? Zero. That's why we need to build it up and have that security.
If you look at the farmers, they have a big selection of pesticides to choose
from. For us, even the chemical companies are not interested in our industry
because we are so small, they cannot invest in our area. In the last four years,
because of the neonicotinoids, and the issues of going after them for using it
safely, they're saying, ``I'm not going to develop another product for bees,
because you are always harassing us.'' We need to change.
Senator Robichaud: Say that again.
Mr. Nasr: They are no longer interested even in developing products
for bee health, because they are upset with the beekeepers complaining about bee
kill from corn and soybean and canola.
We are, right now, in a bind. I tried to work with them, and we need to
continue working with them to encourage them that we are not their enemies. I
always tell them: If a farmer is not going to have the bees to pollinate the
blueberries to produce the crops, the farmer will not be able to pay the
pesticide bill. We need the bees to do the production so they can pay their
bills. That's the kind of culture we need to promote, and that goes back to
coexistence. You rub my back, I rub your back.
Senator Bellemare: Welcome to our two witnesses. You seem to have a
great deal of international experience.
Some documents indicated that the link between, for example, the death rate
in bees and pesticides is hypothetical and has yet to be proven. Moreover, we
know that, in Quebec, studies were conducted regarding the varroa mite and have
almost been conclusive. In your experience, are bees elsewhere in the world also
being threatened by pesticides, especially since, as you mentioned, more and
more corn and soybeans are being grown? Have you learned anything abroad that
could be applied here in Canada?
Mr. Nasr: I think there are two issues about pesticide and
neonicotinoids, which have been used in soybean, sunflowers and corn. One issue
was created by the dust coming out of the seeder, and that, I always say, is
direct kill. The dust will land and the bees will get exposed, so they will die.
That's already clear, because pesticides are designed to kill. The companies try
to say the dust doesn't have enough chemical to kill, and they refuse to accept
the fact. However, in Germany, they were able to accept it and they compensated
The other issue, which is now what I call a red herring, is sublethal
toxicity. The bee is exposed at lower doses, but it doesn't die immediately. It
dies one month, two months or three months later. How many causes have been
involved in this issue? It is the beekeeper. Maybe he did not treat his mites
and the colony starved. The last thing you would like to admit is that it is
actually the sublethal toxicity. Do we have enough information about sublethal
toxicity? Not really. That's the kind of research that's been promoted over the
last four or five years to get to the bottom of it.
As I understand, and it is one of our responsibilities to work with PMRA,
don't only evaluate a product as to how soon it can kill an insect. Lethal doses
of toxicity can kill 50 per cent of the insects. Bring the insects, expose them,
keep them for 24 hours, and find out what percentage is killed. That's the old
way we did it.
When I was in California, we did a lot of research to support ``how toxic.''
Now this issue is no longer good enough. This issue has become how much
cholesterol you eat every day, because that will increase your cholesterol and
your chances for a heart attack. Cholesterol, for us, becomes sublethal
toxicity, helping us to die faster. Now we need to include sublethal toxicity in
any evaluation of any pesticide that is to be registered in the market. That's
Senator Robichaud: This question follows on what you were saying about
the research that was done with pesticides. The producers were assured from PMRA
that they were safe to be used. But that research, I think we were told last
week, was 10 years old, wasn't it? Isn't it time now to go back and see just
what the effects are? Residues stay there — for how long — and that work their
way into the hives. It could be a different situation altogether now, couldn't
Mr. Nasr: Absolutely. It's interesting. This is becoming a global
initiative right now, to go back and review all of this data in terms of
long-term and sublethal toxicity.
One more thing quickly: Most of the research is done for one- or two-years'
safety. However, some of the pesticide stays in the soil and the ground for four
or five years. Every year it is adding up, so the whole situation is more
dynamic. We need to have an evaluation of the long-term side effects, instead of
every 20 years, every 10 years or 5 years, because the dynamics change year by
year. We need to watch for that.
Senator Eaton: Mr. Denluck, feel free to send us your thoughts. How
can we encourage more research into genetics to breed bees that would better
overwinter across the various regions of our country?
Mr. Denluck: I guess the short answer is money. We have a leading
researcher, Dr. Leonard Foster, working on that exact problem. Canada is
extremely large and varied. A lot of that has to be reproduced in different
areas to find the appropriate result, and it's that reproducibility that we
haven't done extensively enough as yet.
The Chair: Witnesses, thank you very much for sharing your opinions
and your views.
(The committee adjourned.)